Fantasy football draws us in each offseason with intriguing free agent storylines, and a new class of highly touted rookies. Admittedly, it’s hard to not get overexcited about players as they join new teams. Social media only further fuels our excitement and influences many of our opinions of players whether we like to admit it or not. However, if we sift through the cluttered depth charts, and steer clear of the “noise” social media creates, fantasy football at its core is about one essential thing – scoring points.
It’s critical we remind ourselves of that basic goal every once in awhile…because if we did, we would find it’s incredibly important to assess two factors when considering adding a player to our fantasy rosters:
I think we can all agree that more targets or carries are a good thing for a player, right? But, that is only part of the equation. The player also has to make good use of those touches to reach his full scoring potential, in shorthand, be efficient with those touches. We’ve seen changes to player efficiency as a key difference maker in scoring (Todd Gurley ‘15 v. ‘16, Allen Robinson ‘15 v. ‘16), and we’ve also seen changes in opportunity (due to injury or depth chart changes).
All that said, I’d like to talk about a recent Twitter poll around the most efficient scoring running back prospect in the 2016 NFL draft: Alvin Kamara.
Alvin Kamara Rookie Draft. Where do you take him?
— Brian Hawkes (@bdhawkes) May 5, 2017
I must say I was surprised to see such a split in opinion on Kamara. We have an almost even 40% split between his value at 1.8-1.11 and 1.12-2.3. That’s important to note as it indicates that nearly half of your league mates may have a late first/ early second round grade on Kamara.
And that, my friends, is an outstanding value.
Focusing on the two criteria noted earlier, opportunity and efficiency, let’s take a deep look at the Saints’ rookie running back.
On the surface, many analysts will say Kamara is buried on the Saints depth chart behind future Hall of Famer, Adrian Peterson, and the productive Mark Ingram (albeit with inconsistent touches). To be as straightforward as I possibly can be – that opinion is a bad one, and it’s lazy.
Adrian Peterson, age 32, is a freaky physical specimen, but there is no hiding his limitations as a pass-catcher, poor pass protector, and his inefficiency running out of the shotgun (averaged 1.6 ypc in ‘15). This will impact his opportunity and guarantees the pass-happy Saints will have a role for other running backs.
He enters 2017 coming off a season where he carried the ball 37 times for 72 yards. Now, we’ve learned never to doubt Peterson’s ability to recover from injury, but if we’re honest – he showed a decrease in performance before his 2016 meniscus tear (3.1 ypc over his last 8 games played).
The final factor in assessing Peterson’s role is his contract. The Saints committed $3.5 million to Peterson for the 2017 season, all of which is guaranteed. In 2018, however, Peterson is owed only $1.25 million guaranteed; the Saints could save $3.5 million if they release Peterson in 2018. The structure of his contract doesn’t make the 33-year-old Peterson a lock to be a Saint beyond this season.
Mark Ingram has been a very efficient player in New Orleans, but his usage has been inconsistent and limited at times. The Saints’ commitment to bringing in Tim Hightower (past years), and now Adrian Peterson, show Sean Payton and his staff don’t believe in Ingram as their lead back. His contract pays him $5.25 million in 2017, $3.79 of which is guaranteed. Similar to Peterson, his contract makes him a potential cap casualty in 2018 as his salary climbs to $6.25 million, but only $1.65 million would count against the cap if he’s cut. Additionally, he’s currently linked to the Philadelphia Eagles as a trade target.
Travaris Cadet and Daniel Lasco are due minimal guaranteed cap money, and as a result are not locks to make the team. In fact, one is almost certain to be cut before the regular season.
What does all of this mean for the future of the Saints backfield? It means Peterson is playing on a year-to-year contract and is not guaranteed a roster spot in 2018. It means Ingram, at 27 years old, and with some very productive tape out there for other NFL teams to reference – is a trade chip. The Saints would prefer to get some return for him versus cutting him and taking a hit in ‘18. I’d expect them to shop Ingram to teams that did not invest highly in a rookie running back or a veteran this offseason (Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Detroit Lions)…and all of this points to a great opportunity for Kamara in 2018!
What about 2017? Well, that’s where it gets real interesting…If we can agree that draft capital is a positive indicator of team commitment – it’s important to note: The Saints traded a 2018 2nd round pick, and a 2017 7th to get Kamara with the 3rd pick of the 3rd round. This puts his draft equity on par with other second rounders: Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon.
As for his landing spot? It’s ridiculously good. Due to the financial commitment to Peterson/ Ingram in 2017, I’m willing to concede Kamara may only be a change of pace/ pass catcher in 2017. Perhaps you believe Kamara’s role is not sufficient enough for you to invest a high rookie pick. If that’s the case, let me ask you this. Would you draft a rookie running back in the top half of the first round if he was a virtual lock to be a top 24 PPR running back as a rookie?
Because that’s exactly what Kamara is.
Here’s a look at the running back target totals since 2011 in a Sean Payton/ Drew Brees led offense:
2011: 184 (Darren Sproles – 111, Pierre Thomas – 59)
2012: 195 (Sproles – 104, Thomas – 53)
2013: 203 (Sproles – 89, Thomas – 84)
2014: 166 (Thomas – 55)
2015: 156 (Ingram – 60)
2016: 162 (Ingram – 58)
Those target totals are consistently near the most in the league and no worse than 4th most. Then, consider this quote from Mickey Loomis, Saints GM, following the draft: “That has been a key element in our offense over the last 11 years…Sean [Payton] and our offensive coaches have a great ability to take advantage of the type talent that Alvin and his predecessors here have had. He’ll fill that role, and we are pretty excited”. Head coach, Sean Payton, added: “I think he will be a good fit for our team and our system…That was a pick we were excited about.”
The role the Saints’ brass are referring to is the one Sproles, and Thomas held 2011-2014. They clearly identified Kamara as a player capable of holding down the role for the first time since 2014 and traded up to get their guy.
With this mind, and the historical target volume we’ve seen with Saints’ running backs command – I’m confident Kamara will see 70+ targets as a rookie.
What would 70 targets translate to for Kamara’s rookie year production?
That’s dependent on his level of efficiency.
Typically, Saints’ running backs see a 75% catch rate on targets received. That would result in close to 53 receptions.
As for yards, they average between 7-9 yards per reception, which would range between 385-495 yards. They also average close 4% of touches resulting in TDs; focusing strictly on receiving production, this would result in 2 touchdowns.
Now, 53 receptions, 440 yards, and 2 touchdowns isn’t overly exciting – but that is “typical” production.
Kamara isn’t “typical”… and that’s exactly why the Saints traded up to get him.
Kamara averaged the following during his time at Tennessee:
9.2 yards per reception
76.9% catch rate
8.45% TD (284 touch sample)
Kamara’s TD rate led all rookie running backs in the 2016 class; this resulted in an impressive 1.46 fantasy points per touch (also best in class). Now we take that efficiency, and we place it in a scheme where Drew Brees threw to his running backs for 10 touchdowns last season….
Kamara’s 2017 receiving production is more likely:
This puts him in the range of James White (60 recs./ 717 total yards/5 TDs; 2016 PPR RB26).
If Ingram and Peterson both stay on the roster for the Saints in 2017, RB24-RB26 is Kamara’s PPR projection. If, for any reason, the Saint’s trade Ingram or the 32-year-old Peterson gets injured… Kamara becomes a player with a ceiling as high as RB10!
Knowing this, I’d be very curious to see where the fantasy community would assess a rookie running back’s draft value if we could say, with confidence, his range of outcomes is a floor of RB26, and a ceiling of RB10 in 2017…and his odds at success in 2018 may be even higher.
Where would you draft that player?
(Jordan Howard finished as RB10 in 2016)